Starving to perfection

“Your body is a vessel for who you are as a person.”

This statement was a key concept for one MU student to understand as she worked to recover from an eating disorder.

“Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health (National Eating Disorder Association).”

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), at least 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder in their life. The serious and potentially life-threatening disorder affects not only those consumed with the condition but those close to them as well. Eating disorders are more common than many realize with a society focused on looks and weight, and NEDA worries that the illness will continue to be an issue for our nation.

According to MU Student Health Center’s registered dietician, Jill Granneman, the four distinguished categories of eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, and an eating disorder not otherwise specified. Anorexia will often result in individuals weighing 85 percent less than expected and the person will have an intense fear of gaining weight or being fat. Like anorexia, bulimia involves a fear of gaining weight as well. Bulimia causes individuals who lack control over eating food to purge to remove the substances from their systems. Similar to bulimia, binge eating is where one overeats an amount of food in one sitting. However, those who suffer from binge eating do not purge after consuming their food. And last, those who have an eating disorder not otherwise specified show symptoms of both anorexia and bulimia.

Granneman helps individuals with these conditions get back on a healthier path and lifestyle through nutritional counseling.

“Primarily, I work with patients to normalize them with food,” Granneman said. “If they’ve had this disorder for a long time, it becomes difficult to reverse their thoughts of certain ‘trigger’ foods … I’ve had better success rates with those who catch it early on and with those who are motivated to change.”

For two current MU students, their roads to recovery have proven to be successful. Both individuals, who prefer to withhold their names, have had a long journey and struggle, but through determination and support they’ve each been able to rise above the disease.

The troubles for one junior began when she was only 11 years old. She suffered from bulimia, but after attending a four-month outpatient rehabilitation, was on the road to recovery. Her issues with the disorder followed her into her freshman year at MU, and she began to struggle with bulimia again. She joined a sorority and was exposed to the scene of being a certain weight or type. Because this is a sensitive topic to her, she immediately became caught up in mediating her appearances.

“Bulimia, it’s a much broader issue than with just food,” she said. “I struggled with alcohol as well.”

By the end of freshman year, she had been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and overdosing on medication twice. It was with the second overdose that she fell into a coma for three days and she and her parents decided that it was time to seek outside help.

“Looking back, my values were superficial,” she said.

She attended rehab for a second time. This time, she received help with her cognitive behavior. As one of the older attendees the second time around, she felt she was a role model for the younger individuals. This gave her the extra push to recovery she needed.

Since she started recovery in June 2011, she has deleted her old Facebook account and all of the old pictures of herself to leave that version of her “self” in the past. She has also found a new outlook on food and life itself.

“I’ve come to value my person a lot more than my body,” the junior said. “Once you release that strong hold on your eating disorder, it’ll set you free.”

Another student at MU, a sophomore, struggled with another form of eating disorder, anorexia. For this individual, her dance life was what led her to struggle with weight. She participated in classical ballet since she was 3 and was pressured to be a certain size if she wanted to dance professionally.

“I started watching what I ate and became obsessed,” she said. “I would eat less and less, to the point where I was eating maybe a few crackers a day and only drinking water.”

In the 8th grade, she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. When she dropped down to 95 pounds her mom approached her during her junior year of high school.  She owes her recovery to her mom putting her in rehab.

At the same time, she had a spinal fusion surgery. The surgery hindered her progress, but she was eventually able to reach a healthy weight even though she had to give up her passion of dance for a while.

“The pressure and concern from my family really pushed me to get better,” she said. “But when some of the girls I had danced with became so sick that they had to be hospitalized and nearly died, I knew I had to change.”

Since her recovery began, she has been able to regain a healthy lifestyle and encourages others to push their loved ones into recovery as well.

“An eating disorder is a mental issue, and someone suffering from it needs tough love,” she said. “It’s an embarrassing situation for the one suffering and they need someone there to support them constantly, 24/7.”

Eating disorders are a serious issue that anyone could struggle with. In today’s society, the pressure to be stick-thin for women or extremely muscular for men, has a potential to alter individuals’ frame of minds. Subconsciously, the majority of our nation has come to accept these ideals as normal.

If you, or someone you know, suffer from an eating disorder, dietician Jill Granneman suggests visiting a doctor first. Granneman says students at MU can visit Dr. Aneesh Tosh at the Student Health Center, who specializes in eating disorders. She also suggests therapy and seeking a dietician’s help, as well. For family or loved ones, she recommends they educate themselves on eating disorders because it is often hard for them to fully understand the situation going on around them.